Following the first debates last month, polling for the Democratic presidential contenders coalesced around five main candidates. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA), and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg put some distance between themselves and the rest of the two-dozen strong field. Monday was Disclosure Day for the field, and sure enough, Biden, Bernie, Buttigieg, Warren, and Harris came out on top of the money race. Money talks, of course. Not always on its own, but often in echoes. With debate requirements tightening in the fall, the second quarter numbers offer the best picture yet as to who will go the furthest and who might be going home the soonest.
Mayor Pete topped the entire field, with an impressive $24.9 million. His first-place finish is especially extraordinary, considering the national newcomer out-raised rivals with near-universal name ID, one of whom has been running almost continuously for four years. Per FiveThirtyEight, Buttigieg also has the second-lowest burn rate in the field, at just under 30%. This frugality might be a problem, as political candidates typically have to both raise and spend money rapidly. Buttigieg has been reluctant to staff up in the big states, but he reportedly hopes to hire some 300 staffers by Labor Day.
For the most part, fundraising for the rest of the fab five mirrored their polling, in both position and performance. Biden’s $22 million was good. Good enough for second place, and certainly not bad for Biden’s first quarter in the race. It’s nowhere close to being overwhelming however (see Hillary Clinton’s $45 million from the first quarter of 2015), and indicative that in these early days, Democrats prefer to shop around.
Bernie started strong, but entered a bit of a lull this quarter: $18 million raised, and another $7.6 million transferred, to total the most money on hand. Sen. Harris’ $11.8 million haul probably would have been higher, had the quarter not ended three days after her breakout debate performance ($3 million since). The award for Most Improved Player goes to Sen. Warren, whose finance director quit at the end of March. After a first quarter with just $6 million, Warren raised $19.1 this quarter, even bettering Sanders among small donors.
The news can’t be good for everybody, of course. No other candidate raised more than Sen. Cory Booker’s $4.5 million this quarter. Eight others raised $1 million or less, and former Maryland Congressman John Delaney loaned himself $7.75 million. We’re already at the point in the campaign where that’s a problem. Eleven candidates spent more than they took in during the second quarter. Kirsten Gillibrand’s burn rate was highest, at an astronomical 184%. “Some of these candidates need a miracle,” said Democratic strategist Mathew Littman. “It’s like if you’re a baseball team and you’re 15 games behind in mid-July, the odds are that you’re not making it to the playoffs.” Those playoffs, of course, don’t start until Iowa and New Hampshire. Once the field for the fall debates are announced, however, several teams will surely get a case of wait ‘till next year.